If the Lawrence High football team that left the field after its second-round playoff loss this past fall remained intact, the Lions’ first week of summer break would feel a little bit more like vacation.
The top offensive weapons from a team that went 8-3 are gone. All-Sunflower League first-team receivers Erick Mayo and Drake Hofer and quarterback Brad Strauss all have graduated, as did second-team selection Will Thompson. So of course the team that took the field Tuesday morning at LHS for the first day of camp looked noticeably different. But Lawrence’s newly appointed veterans didn’t seem to be bothered by the development.
Senior tackle Alex Jones saw a group of hungry, motivated Lions, while pointing out probably the most glaring difference in this team: “There’s less natural-born players.”
Kyle Wittman, a senior center and defensive tackle, agreed that the lesser-known Lions are eager to make a name for themselves and step into the empty roster spots left behind by their predecessors.
“I’m sure a lot of guys will fit in good,” Wittman said. “Not having the playmakers we had last year, we’re gonna miss ‘em, I guess. But that’s last year. This is this year.”
With Strauss out of the picture, rising seniors Tucker Sutter and Braxton Bressler, as well as sophomore Alan Clothier, took the bulk of the reps at quarterback. Sutter said it will take a lot of work from everyone on the team to get Lawrence in position to offset the roster losses it suffered.
“But I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are ready,” Sutter said, “and we can whip ’em up and get ’em going.”
LHS coach Dirk Wedd barked at players occasionally, displaying how critical these four days of camp will be to the rebuilding team’s growth. Among Wedd’s biggest concerns are a lack of “great” team speed and, of course, replacing the stable of skill players who have moved on to college. Despite the questions surrounding Lawrence, Wedd didn’t have to think long to come up with a positive foundation on which the team can build.
“Two of our biggest leaders last year were juniors, in Drew Green and Kieran Severa,” the coach said.
Now they’ll be seniors — Green at running back and linebacker, and Severa at receiver and free safety. On defense, those two and strong safety Sutter give Wedd a core he can trust. Just who will defend the field with them remains up in the air.
“If we can surround them with some quality players, we’ve got a shot,” Wedd said. “I still think we’re gonna have to grow, and the weight room’s gonna be important this summer.”
After camp concludes Friday, the Lions will travel to a contact camp at Emporia State University (which unlike LHS camp, includes pads and tackling) on Sunday and Monday. Wedd said his coaching staff will learn a lot more about its players then.
“We have to answer some questions,” Wedd said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s session. “They’re running around right now in pajamas. You don’t find out very much about the hitting part of it, but you find out a little something about their makeup, as far as how they react in team situations.”